French Secularism and the Genuinely Religious

Macron seems to be going to war with Islam separatism, in a way that really opened my eyes to what Western governments are capable of when pushed far enough.

This is neither shocking or particularly surprising if you've been watching Franch islamic terrorism efforts over time. France has always been illiberally tough in its anti-terrorism statutes by American standards, and Macron was already pushing the French islamic leader community to adopt the 'imam charter' early last year. While the timing/framing of this may be done with the political optics of the upcoming French election in mind, the concept behind it has been in the works for years.

French secularism has always had a strain of severe insecurity regarding the loyalties of the genuinely religious, dating back to the times of the French revolution and the tensions of the second estate and its loyalties, and as a question of fervor modern Islam is far more, well, fervent than French Catholicism.

The French aren't exactly wrong to view foreign-funding Imams as an influence vector for extreme Islamic ideologies or as vectors of foreign influence. The export of wahabbism islamic theology, one of the most conservative strands associated with the likes of the 9-11 hijackers, has been a core part of Saudi foreign policy for decades. Turkey has used its state-sponsored imams abroad less for theology and more to help organize pro-Turkish protest/pressure movements out of Turkish guest workers, such as was seen in Germany in the later 'teens. In both cases, it highlights both the foreign influence vector, and that substantial elements of the national populations are neither integrating nor interested in integrating. For France, which culturally portrays itself as an assimilationist identity but has historically struggled, both of these are alarming problems of foreign influencers with malign intentions.

(If at any point in this you found yourself nodding along as if that made sense, congratulations- you can now empathize with Putin and his distrust of Western NGOs.)

But as for the French controlling it by making everyone involved sign loyalty oaths, there's far less reason to believe that will make the problem go away or turn the masses into integrated believers. It's ultimately a contest of legitimacy, and not in the sense of 'what the state thinks is legitimate,' but what the believers do.

One of the reasons foreign religious teachers are so influential is because they are seen as independent of the local government- free from the sort of local corruption or elite interests that casts doubts on sincerity. China can produce it's own dali lama, but it's unlikely anyone will believe them a partiularly holy man guided by convictions. The Soviets certainly tried to provide plenty of their own ideal moral exemplars to inspire the Warsaw Pact, but I think we can agree that Pope John Paul mk2 was a viewed as a lot more genuine. Making religious leaders swear fealty to the state as terms for employment of religious leaders just, well, proves that their fealty is to the state over god.

Which is a great way to delegitimize those preachers who happen to be preaching the desired moderate messaging, and re-legitimize the extremists. If moderate messaging comes from sell-outs who bend the knee to the state, but the sincere imams who would rather be fired than compromise the word and supremacy of God are fired, then being fired for your beliefs is going to be a better signal of sincerity and devoition than state-approval. Moderate imams may be sincere, but seperating them from the charlatans, the corrupt, and the insincere sophist collaborators is a lot harder than just looking for those who cost-signal their sincerety by holding their believes to the point of being banned.

And when it comes to religion, people seek sincerity like moths seek flame. Not understanding that is missing a major part of the human condition.

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Now, none of that means that the French illiberalism won't be a net positive from a security state perspective. Fragmenting/disrupting an information/influence system still has value even if the replacement isn't as credible with the target audience. Authorities can relatively easily track internet traffic out of the country by people not satisfied with the local fix, and there are a lot of people who will be satisfied enough that they won't mind state-sanctioned imams. And, hey, if widespread cynicism and disillusionment craters French islamic fervor, that's a plus from a secularist perspective. Fewer radical fervent believers, and they have a harder time not being caught.

But as far as preventing disillusioned youth from seeking radicalism or prioritizing religion over the state... yeah, no. French competance in understanding/mastering culture out of the francosphere isn't so good that I'd expect the current French state to succeed where far more brutal and totalitarian empires have failed.